FILE - A woman stands outside a damaged school dormitory after it was set on fire in Bafut, in the northwest English-speaking region of Cameroon, Nov. 15, 2017. The military says it is helping clean up towns in efforts to implement new peace resolutions.
FILE - A woman stands outside a damaged school dormitory after it was set on fire in Bafut, in the northwest English-speaking region of Cameroon, Nov. 15, 2017.

YAOUNDE - At least 3,000 Cameroon teachers have refused  offers by the central African state’s military to transport teaching staff to schools in the conflict-prone English-speaking regions.

The teachers, who fled separatists' attacks, looting, burning and occupation of their schools in the English-speaking regions, say they are not sure of their safety as some separatist fighters are again threatening to kill teachers and students who go to school. The renewed separatist threats are casting doubts over all schools reopening after four years of closure due to separatist crisis.
 

Primary school teacher Fru Issac, 47, says he has refused an offer by the Cameroon military to take him to his school in the restive English-speaking region. However, Fru said Friday, six of his peers accepted the offer to be transported by the military from the town of Bamenda to Ndop in the English-speaking Northwest Region.   

"The authorities are now taking the teachers who cannot access their stations in armored cars. But the question is, when you successfully take them there, how would the teachers cope in the absence of these armored cars,” he said.  

Fru said he remained convinced that fighters were still hiding in the bush ready to commit atrocities on teachers and students when the military transports leave.   

Quetong Handerson Kongeh, the most senior Cameroon government official in the Ntem Valley administrative unit that includes Kiossi, confers with local officials, in Kiossi, Cameroon, March 3, 2018. (Moki Kindzeka/VOA)

However, Handerson Quetong, the highest government official in the English-speaking northwestern Ngoketungia Division, where Ndop is located, says teachers who fail to return to school will be punished. Quetong says the military will also find and punish people he describes as agents sent by separatists to threaten parents if they send their children to school.   

"Anybody, especially teachers who will continue to insist on boycott, should know that [we consider that] they have another agenda which is hidden, and woe betide anybody who will still continue to carry out campaign and sensitization for this doctrine of boycott," he said.   

Cameroon’s military said it has been on standby since October 5, when the country’s 2020-2021 school year began, to transport teachers, students and administrative staff to schools in English-speaking towns and villages.    

The military said they acted to ensure that schools closed for the past four years as a result of the separatist crisis can reopen their doors so thousands of children can have access to education.    

However, Cameroon’s ministries in charge of elementary and secondary education said more than 3,000 teachers did not show up last week. 

Cameroon reported that 140 of close to 500 schools closed by fighters within the past four years had reopened, with about 30,000 anxious children in attendance.   

Some Anglophone activists have asked for schools to be reopened, saying it was a human rights abuse to continue to deprive children of education.   

The Teachers Association of Cameroon said at least 300 teachers responded to the calls and returned to schools in the English-speaking regions. The association said many of the teachers preferred to return on their own for fear of being identified with the military by fighters.   

However, a group calling itself the Interim Governing Council of Ambazonia, the nation they are fighting to create, said it had banned all schools controlled by Cameroon central government in Yaoundé from operating in the English-speaking regions.   

It said it had ordered its fighters to abduct teachers and students who dare go to school.   

Colonel Leoue Fesso, in charge of road safety at Cameroon’s Defense Ministry says special troops have been deployed to assure the safety of the teachers and students in all English schools.   

"Our forces made it possible to restore serenity in these areas affected by the crisis. We can therefore reassure the entire education community in these areas about the protective measures being taken by the defense and security forces for a smooth and successful 2020-2021 academic year," he said.  

Cameroon’s government is also encouraging the creation of militias around schools to inform the military of any strange movements and visitors.    

The separatist conflict in Cameroon has left over 3,000 people dead and half a million displaced according to the United Nations.  The crisis started in 2016, when teachers and lawyers took to the streets to complain about the overbearing influence of the French language in the bilingual country.    

The military responded with a crackdown and separatists took up weapons, claiming that they were defending civilians. They asked for a school shutdown and vowed to make the English-speaking regions ungovernable.